While Elon Musk is busy figuring out production issues for his Tesla cars, Richard Branson-led Virgin Hyperloop is making strides in advancing an idea that Musk had reprised back in 2012, the Hyperloop. Virgin Hyperloop released an explainer video about their transportation concept, which includes more design upgrades compared to the company's last announcement.
A Hyperloop system is a mass-transit system that uses sealed tubes with low pressures to allow travel pods to move at high speeds in an environment that offers little air resistance. Aimed at connecting large cities, a Hyperloop is more energy efficient compared to train systems and an eco-friendly option, when compared to air transportation. The concept of the Hyperloop is centuries old and construction on it was even attempted between Exeter and Plymouth in the UK in 1848 but abandoned shortly thereafter since the engineers could not maintain the pressure in the closed tubes. It is only fitting that another Englishman takes the idea forward, even though we must thank Elon Musk for giving the concept much publicity.
Musk had released a white paper in 2012 suggesting a Hyperloop system be built between the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. A slew of companies, none with Musk involved, was then formed to transform this concept note into reality. While some failed to secure even Series A funding, others have been working with governmental agencies to figure out favorable routes in different parts of the world.
Apart from build testing tracks, companies have even reworked the concepts of the Hyperloop that Musk had shown. Poland-based Nevomo is looking to integrate its version of Hyperloop with existing rail systems and use magnetic levitation to avoid the cost of building a completely new infrastructure. Canada-based TransPod, on the other hand, plans to use moving electromagnetic fields that will allow its pods to move 10-15 tons of cargo as well.
At the end of last year, Branson-led Hyperloop had tested the system with two company executives. Over the next few months, the company seems to have changed its mind on how it plans to lay its tracks and also the way the pods will look in the future.
In a clear departure from the magnetically levitated (MagLev) train system, Virgin's pods aren't resting on the tracks rather hanging off them. The company also claims that its pods will be battery-powered rather than being live-wired. According to the company, by moving the levitation, power, and propulsion to its pods, it has built a system that is 10 times more energy efficient than the current MagLev trains.
Instead of connecting the pods, Virgin Hyperloop plans to move them in caravans so that Pods can be diverted to different destinations. Virgin Hyperloop is confident that its Pods will move at 650 miles per hour (1070 kph) and enable ultra-fast transportation for tens of thousands of people without direct emissions from the operation.
Just in case this has you excited, you need to wait at least till 2027 to experience the Hyperloop when commercial operations are scheduled to begin.